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Mass Education, Global Capital, and the World: The Theoretical Lenses of István Mészáros and Immanuel Wallerstein

reviewed by Obed Mfum-Mensah - May 05, 2014

coverTitle: Mass Education, Global Capital, and the World: The Theoretical Lenses of István Mészáros and Immanuel Wallerstein
Author(s): Tom G. Griffiths, Robert Imre
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137014814, Pages: 232, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

In the book Mass Education, Global Capital and the World, Tom G. Griffiths and Robert Imre employ the theoretical lenses of Immanuel Wallerstein and István Mészáros to analyze the relationship between mass education and global capitalism. They highlight the utility of these theoretical lenses for research and analysis in social sciences, the need to reconsider the value of the global analysis used by the two scholars for understanding mass education, and provoke readers to contribute to the construction of radical alternatives (p. 159).

In Chapter One the authors argue that Wallesterins’s and Mészáros’ works are relevant and applicable to the analysis of mass education in a context where global capitalism has exceeded its limits, is not viable, and people are searching for alternative non-capitalist, socioeconomic, and political frameworks (p. 2). The authors cogently argue that Wallestein’s and Mészáros’ works need serious consideration for our time because of their “big picture” approach to the analysis and understanding of social phenomena, multi- or interdisciplinary approaches, challenge of established ways of structuring knowledge in favor of holistic and unidisciplinary approaches to the “study of totalities,” and the break from simple categorizations that limit their scope (pp. 4-5).

In Chapter Two Griffiths and Imre outline the scope and limitations of Wallerstein’s world-system analysis. The authors discuss the three areas emphasized by world-systems analysis: the contemporary crisis of capitalism is a world system in the process of transition toward an alternative (but uncertain) replacement (p. 12); there is a need to develop a macro level account of social reality which is explained by the historical establishment and development of the capitalist world-economy and its future trajectories; and there are two types of world systems, notably (1) world empires with single political systems, and (2) world economies with multiple political systems where the division of labor is the underlying characteristic. These areas that form parts of the world system are dependent on the economic exchange of staples with other areas to satisfy local and national needs.

The authors elaborate on Wallerstein’s world-systems explanations of the expansion of capitalism, incorporation of new areas, and development of core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral societies (p. 14). For Wallerstein, the distinctive feature of a capitalist world-economy is the incorporation of new areas to participate in the world economy for the effective functioning, expansion, and development of the capitalist world-system (p. 15). The chapter delineates the transitions and limits of world-systems analysis, noting that it is an intellectual project that critiques the dominant epistemologies of social science and engenders a unidisciplinary concept of knowledge—“social scientization” of all knowledge rather than a binary approach to knowledge (p. 34).

Chapters Three and Four discuss multiple ways mass education serves as a commodity for empowering or disempowering different social groups in nation states. In Chapter Three the authors discuss mass education and its relationship to human capital development in the capitalist world economy. It highlights the discourse around the global mass education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and argues that human capital logic has played a major role in mass education since this period. The authors note that the logic of mass education is to improve the knowledge and skills of future workers to ensure a more highly skilled and efficient workforce, and to improve the rates of employment, productivity, and wages in order to reduce poverty (p. 43). However, this human capital logic also converts educational credentials into commodities to be exchanged for later employment and wage earning possibilities (p. 52). The chapter also discusses how the motifs for promoting meritocracy within unequal contexts and distributing formal educational credentials are part of the major project to achieve and maintain political stability in the face of inequality, justifying the unequal distribution of jobs and socio-economic well-being as a direct reflection of differential levels of ‘merit’ (p 56).

Chapter Four outlines the diverse ways critical pedagogy as an educational praxis challenges the hegemonic nature of the traditional schooling system. It notes that critical pedagogy has emerged to address oppression and the uncritical transfer of knowledge in the schooling process in order to embolden students to think critically and act with authority as agents in the classroom (p. 70). Through this practice they develop skills, knowledge, and capacities to critically examine or question the many deep-seated assumptions and myths that legitimate archaic social practices of societies. The chapter outlines the three areas where world-systems analysis and critical pedagogy converge (pp. 73–74). The chapter discusses an imagined critical world-systems education and ways it could transform the organizational structure, curriculum, and pedagogical praxis of education and the goals of preparing human capital and developing informed an citizenry (pp. 87–92).

Chapters Five, Six, and Seven return to the theoretical analysis to compare the convergence and divergence of Wallerstein’s and Mészáros’ other theoretical frameworks. In Chapter Five the authors outline the areas where Mészáros and Wallerstein converge and diverge. Griffiths and Imre elucidate the ways Mészáros’ background and experiences are fundamental to his critique of modernity and how he utilizes the early Marxist thoughts to develop his critique of modernity from the 1960s (p. 99). The chapter also highlights the history of Marxism in Eastern Europe and discusses ways Mészáros’ analysis diverges with Marxism. Chapter Six expatiates further on the history and philosophical discussions of capitalism within the lenses of Marxism, Mészáros, the Budapest School, and neo-Marxist Agnes Heller. The authors provide diverse analytical perspectives to support the argument that the Eastern European philosophical analysis of capitalism was divergent and not homogeneous as some view Marxism.

Chapter Seven draws the relationship between the work of Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, and Mészáros’ work. Polanyi demonstrated how the “economy” was an aspect of the social and productive life that was embedded in societies around the world (p. 143). The authors delineate the convergence of Polanyi’s analysis and that of Wallerstein’s and Mészáros’. The authors also outline ways Mészáros framework departs from the traditional Marxist thinking of values and need, noting that Meszaros’ fundamental tenet was that everyday life was the category of analysis for social conditions in the modern world (p. 144). The chapter also returns to the neo-Marxist views of Agnes Heller, which provide an alternative social theory of how needs, values, instincts, and feelings are categories of social anthropology and how this analysis proved impossible to sustain in an orthodox Marxist setting (p. 158).

The final chapter echoes the major objective of the book: to provoke scholars to reconsider the value of the global analyses that Wallerstein and Mészáros bring to mass education; to apply and pay due attention to scholars’ research; to understanding social reality; to confront the nature and content of these scholars’ works, which focus on capitalism and its crises and contradictions (p. 160); and to understand diverse ways this work may inform educational research, analyses, and international comparisons of educational practices (pp. 160–161).

Overall, the book is nicely organized and a must read. Scholars in the field of social sciences, politics, education, and sociology may find the book very insightful. Organizationally, I do not see the relevance of including the theoretical analysis of Karl Polanyi in Chapter Seven given that the authors devoted only a small section to highlight Polanyi’s work. The book should have highlighted the works of Agnes Heller in the same way it did Wallerstein and Mészáros, for the simple reason that she is the major focus of neo-Marxist analysis of Chapters Five, Six, and Seven.

The narrative that mass education is a commodity in global capitalism is an interesting perspective but not the whole perspective. There was absolutely a point in time when capitalist forces were deliberate in employing mass education as a commodity in global capitalism. However, the socioeconomic environments of our contemporary times make such a narrative tenuous. The challenges posed by unemployment, underemployment, and outsourcing leave many people with strong education credentials scrambling for employment and economic advancement in many nation-states. Since the “education for all” (EFA) campaigns of the 1990s, we have witnessed a reduction in global illiteracy. The assumptions of EFA included economic expansion and poverty reduction for individuals and nation-states. However, many nation-states have witnessed negative effects in terms of economic expansion and poverty reduction, even though many of their citizens have been educated. Such a phenomenon calls for the global community to revisit and reframe the role of EFA in our global society.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 05, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17522, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 4:15:40 AM

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About the Author
  • Obed Mfum-Mensah
    Messiah College
    E-mail Author
    OBED MFUM-MENSAH teaches Educational Foundations, Sociocultural Perspectives on Education, and Comparative and International Development Education at Messiah College, in Grantham, Pennsylvania. His research and publications are in the areas of special education policies, complementary education programs, education and social development, and curriculum development in sub-Saharan Africa. His most recent work, “Whose Voices are being heard? Mechanisms for Community Participation in Education in Northern Ghana has been revised and resubmitted to Prospect Journal. Obed’s article “Education Collaboration to Promote School Participation in Northern Ghana: A Case Study of a Complementary Education Program” appeared in International Journal of Educational Development 31(5), 459–465.
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